It's an ongoing debate - there are some that seem to make salvation a passive event, where God does everything and we are but bystanders; and the extreme view of others that we have to demonstrate to God our contrition/achievements/worth/deservedness, and make salvation a good-works talent show designed to impress God. I know more people who will confess to the former, that God is the only active agent in salvation; but I know many live as though the latter were true. If you've read my blog for any time at all, you know that I have some strong opinions about the former, and that I find the latter to be silly and laughable. Rather than shoot at one idea or the other, I wanted to try to make an affirmative statement of my views. I've been spending a lot of time lately in focused prayer and fasting, because I've found that I'm impulsive, and my impulses are not godly. They keep getting me into trouble. So here's my statement - Christianity is Truth. Jesus Christ is God, and God is one. Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, rose from the dead, and has atoned for my sins. Through repentance and baptism in His name, I have taken part of his death and burial, and I have risen as a new creature with Him when I was filled with the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues. I believe that Jesus is Lord, I believe there is one God, and I believe in Christianity.
Here's the problem - there's a disconnect between what I believe and how I live. I find myself still struggling with sin and doubt and fear and a lot of other things, and I've been wondering lately - if I struggle with sin, or if I'm still bound by sin (I submit there's a difference between sinning and being bound by sin), then what good is my professed faith?
There's a difference between mental assent and real faith. Faith means action. Faith is a verb. James' epistle is a terrific book, but it has to be read with the right attitude. If read too seriously, too literally, you'll miss the point. James is incredibly sarcastic. Most of what he's writing needs to be read with tongue firmly planted in cheek. In James 2:19, he is in the middle of berating them for being selfish and for focusing far too much on the spiritual and not being very practical. After jumping on their case for a bit, James says, "Oh, I know what you're going to say! You're going to tell me that you believe in one God. Well, whoopity-do! The demons in hell also believe in one God, and it scares them to death!" (Brad Titus paraphrase)
James points out - rather aggressively - that simply agreeing with a fact isn't the same as faith. Faith does things. And that's how you know it's real. We're justified by grace through faith in Jesus, but if we have saving faith, it will manifest itself in how we live/act/think/talk. In my case, it will change me right down to my impulses. I shouldn't react so carnally anymore.